by Julian Spivey
Jimmie Johnson has never gotten any love from me. He’s the best driver in NASCAR. He drives for the best team in the sport in Hendrick Motorsports. He has the best crew chief in the sport in Chad Knauss. His No. 48 team is the New York Yankees of NASCAR in that he’s supposedly the favorite every season and backs it up more often than not. He’s also, in my opinion, boring.
But, Jimmie Johnson had the most apt sponsor I’ve ever seen in my 15 years of watching NASCAR when he went to Victory Lane at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. on Sunday afternoon (March 20) – Superman. It was part of the promotion for the upcoming movie blockbuster “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” (Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove the Batman car) and his car featured that iconic Superman ‘S’ on the hood of his car. It’s the most apt sponsor I’ve ever seen in the sport because Johnson is NASCAR’s Superman. And, you know he wanted to prove it on Sunday with that ‘S’ on his car more than he’s ever wanted to before.
Johnson didn’t have the most dominant car on Sunday afternoon – that was Kevin Harvick, who looked like he was going to be Superman’s kryptonite and run away with victory, but a late-race caution gave Johnson and others a chance at beating Harvick and like the superhero he is Johnson willed his way past Harvick and Denny Hamlin on the final restart and flew away to victory. Relishing in his win the almost always buttoned-down Johnson actually donned a Superman cape in Victory Lane and in postrace interviews. I for the first time in my life – maybe because my favorite driver Jeff Gordon just retired and I can completely respect the greatness in his best competitor and teammate – actually felt happy for Johnson.
Johnson’s win in the Superman car is really one of the most symbolic statements I’ve ever seen in the sport. The legendary Dale Earnhardt is considered the greatest driver in NASCAR history by many and Johnson’s win at Auto Club Speedway (the seventh of his career at the track) surpassed Earnhardt on the all-time wins list with 77. Johnson surpassed Earnhardt’s win total in 164 fewer races (that’s four and a half fewer seasons). It’s almost impossible for Johnson to one day become the winningest driver in NASCAR Sprint Cup history as Richard Petty amassed 200 wins in an era where there wasn’t as much competition. This is what truly makes Johnson a superhero. He’s won 77 races and six championships (and he likely isn’t done with that either) in the sport’s most competitive era where he’s raced against the likes of Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Harvick, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski and those are just his fellow champions. Johnson could retire at this very moment and you could make the claim he’s the greatest driver NASCAR has ever seen and yet he’s still arguably the biggest threat each and every week.
He might not be the most exciting driver in the garage, but there’s little doubt he’s the greatest – some might actually say the same thing about Superman when it comes to legendary comic book superheroes.